Prenatal drug exposure to illicit drugs alters working memory-related brain activity and underlying network properties in adolescence

Julie B Schweitzer, Tracy Riggins, Xia Liang, Courtney Gallen, Pradeep K. Kurup, Thomas J. Ross, Maureen M. Black, Prasanna Nair, Betty Jo Salmeron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The persistence of effects of prenatal drug exposure (PDE) on brain functioning during adolescence is poorly understood. We explored neural activation to a visuospatial working memory (VSWM) versus a control task using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in adolescents with PDE and a community comparison group (CC) of non-exposed adolescents. We applied graph theory metrics to resting state data using a network of nodes derived from the VSWM task activation map to further explore connectivity underlying WM functioning. Participants (ages 12-15. years) included 47 adolescents (27 PDE and 20 CC). All analyses controlled for potentially confounding differences in birth characteristics and postnatal environment. Significant group by task differences in brain activation emerged in the left middle frontal gyrus (BA 6) with the CC group, but not the PDE group, activating this region during VSWM. The PDE group deactivated the culmen, whereas the CC group activated it during the VSWM task. The CC group demonstrated a significant relation between reaction time and culmen activation, not present in the PDE group. The network analysis underlying VSWM performance showed that PDE group had lower global efficiency than the CC group and a trend level reduction in local efficiency. The network node corresponding to the BA 6 group by task interaction showed reduced nodal efficiency and fewer direct connections to other nodes in the network. These results suggest that adolescence reveals altered neural functioning related to response planning that may reflect less efficient network functioning in youth with PDE.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)69-77
Number of pages9
JournalNeurotoxicology and Teratology
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015


  • Adolescence
  • Cocaine
  • FMRI
  • Graph theory
  • Illicit drugs
  • Prenatal drug exposure
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Toxicology


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